Summer Practice Incentive

It’s always fun to change it up a little in summer. During the school year, my usual practice incentives have students working individually to earn rewards and reach practice goals. This summer I decided to have students work together to reach a studio-wide practice goal. This helps create community and is a fun way for students to contribute to each other. So I guessed at how much practice I thought students would accomplish this summer together, then gave the math problem to my daughter to figure out how big to make a gumball machine to hold 3/4″ gumballs (stickers). It’s so handy to have a daughter who just completed high school geometry. She’s also an artist and free-handed the rest of the gumball machine. I’m not sure where she gets her skills…for sure not from me.

Anyway, we decided that 30 minutes of practice would earn one gumball (sticker) to put in the gumball machine. Students wrote their initials on the stickers. For younger students who don’t count minutes, but practice sessions, we decided that two practice sessions would equal one sticker. 

I gave younger students a punch card to help them keep track of their summer practice.
The gumball machine filled up super fast. We completed the challenge in three weeks! I asked a student to draw a table under the gumball machine so we could start stacking gumballs on top on it and keep the challenge going. He also added a dodo bird, because why not? 🙂

The prize for each student who contributed time to our summer practice challenge was a bag of gumballs!


Happy Teaching Moments | June 2018

1. Attending Colorado State Music Teachers Association conference – read my post about it

2. Developing summer practice incentive – all the students will be pooling their summertime practice. 30 minutes of practice = 1 round sticker. When the gum ball machine is filled, everyone wins a prize!

3. Students filling up the practice incentive quickly!20180620_193706

4. Starting four new students

5. Time to catch my breath and enjoy my family, friends and summer


Summer Lesson Ideas

Yay for summer! Summer lessons are a great time to try something new. I know I like a change from the normal lesson and I’m sure my students enjoy it too.
A lot of teachers offer awesome group lessons and camps in summer, but I usually stick to individual lessons (sometimes partner lessons) for a myriad of reasons. Here are a few things I’m doing this summer with my students:
Young Students
Teach Piano Today has a wealth of great material to be used throughout the year, not just in summer. Here are a few things I’m using:
Summertime Composing (I’m also using this with older students as well)
Elementary and Later Elementary Students
Composer Lapbook on Beethoven from Joy Morin at Color in My Piano – the students who are working on this project will also play pieces by Beethoven at their level
Group Projects
The Magical Forest by Nancy Lau – the students working on this project are learning their pieces individually, then we will have one group project day to practice the suite, draw posters and have fun together. We are going to present the suite to the students’ parents and have a pool party to celebrate!
Over the Rainbow – I have two siblings working together on this – one will play the piano, one will play the ukelele
Several students are starting to work on their parts for our annual Multiple Piano Festival.
I’m expecting these projects will be lots of fun and yet provide for some good learning experiences too!

Teaching Joy

I have a fairly new student (started last fall) who is a perfectionist. He plays with precision. Every rhythm is metronomically correct. Every dynamic is planned – even the crescendos and diminuendos are planned out. If a crescendo goes from piano to forte, he writes in his music p, mp, mf, f so he knows exactly which note will be louder. The ritardandos are planned out in a similar fashion.

All of this he does in his practice sessions at home. When he comes back to the lesson, of course the piece is solid. He definitely knows how to play the piece and what he wants to do with these gray areas.

However, the piece is lacking in musicality and joy. There is no room for spontaneity and emotion.

When I started realizing his preparedness was diminishing his joy, it was time for a talk. We talked about how great musicians play great pieces differently each time. Even composers would play their own pieces differently each time. Sometimes the hall or the piano dictates that we interpret the pieces in a different way. Sometimes our own emotions tell us to play differently. Sometimes it’s just fun to try a phrase a different way.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

In fact, that’s where the fun starts and the music-making happens. It’s great to use the road map that is the score. But the road map has limitations. How can a composer really put onto paper what we hear? We have to use symbols and agreed-upon words to try to meagerly describe how this sound happens. But it always comes up short. Every time. For music you need feeling, you need your own interpretation, you need to understand the sound journey of this piece in your own being.

And, most importantly, you need joy in the process.The joy of using your ability at the piano to say something at the piano. The joy of listening to the music you are making. The joy of the gift of music – both to yourself, the performer and to others, your audience.

I feel we only begin to understand this joy as we get older. A lot of younger students, while they enjoy lessons, might not really choose to play the piano if given that choice. It is essential in our teaching to teach joy.

Do you know that saying that we don’t really remember exactly what people say to us, but we remember how it made us feel? I would like each student to walk out of my studio door with a feeling of joy. Joy of accomplishment. Joy of discovery. Joy of having had fun.

And I hope the joy ties itself to the music and the joyful music lasts a lifetime.

End of Year Studio Recap

2017-18 was a terrific year in the piano studio. I feel that both the students and I, their teacher made a lot of progress. We enjoyed the learning process, reached goals, and connected in our community. This post describes a few things that helped to make this year successful.

Online presence

I have always enjoyed Facebook and Instagram personally, but I haven’t done much with it for the studio. While I have had a studio Facebook account for many years, this year I created a studio Instagram account and have been blown away with the connection it allowed me to have with teachers around the world. I’m not sure why Instagram allows this connection more than Facebook (probably just me), but it has been so inspiring to see what other teachers are doing and what we have in common. It also allowed me to connect with my studio families in a new way, to show what happens in lessons on a weekly basis. You can find me on instagram at icepianostudio. This is one of my favorite recent posts:

Maintaining and writing this blog also helps me as a teacher. I have a place to record events and explain ideas that help me to think through my own teaching philosophy. The process helps me to make intentional choices in my teaching.


I truly believe that the biggest factor of this successful teaching year has been the use of Evernote. This past fall I came across this post by Amy Chaplin, and decided to give Evernote a try. In the past I had tried paper records, Excel records and (ahem) no records. Using Evernote helps me to organize students and teaching materials and to cross-reference in a way that helps me see similarities in students. Grouping students and materials helps me to see more clearly what I can be using with all my students and also gives me more ideas for individual students.


One-minute flashcard challenge – many teachers run this challenge each year. This is how it works in our studio. 

Sightreading challenge – a new challenge this year. We used the sightreading cards from Piano Safari and had lots of fun. Read about it here. 

Making sticker badges – I gave out sticker badges for both the flashcard and sightreading challenges. The students proudly display them on their studio binders!

Power of the prize – keeping a fully-stocked prize bin is key!

Studio materials

New bookshelves helped me to see and access materials more easily

Wunderkeys games and printables – these resources have been so good for younger students. I can easily access games and worksheets to get students off the bench and to work on specific concepts.

Dozen a Day – more than a year ago I wrote this post about why I love the “Dozen a Day” series. My thoughts in that post still ring true today. Most of my students use these books for their technique work. I love that young students have success with the “Mini Book”, working on technique and solidifying reading skills, and older students learn new concepts and develop strong technique with the higher level books. I definitely encourage every teacher to give them a try!

Magnetic music staff – the clef signs and whole notes are magnetic, so it’s easy to quickly manipulate the board to teach. I used this set from the wonderful Susan Paradis, which also contains sharps and flats. 

Photo props from Teach Piano Today – these are so fun! Students love to have their picture taken with these fun props. I often use them to highlight student accomplishments on my Instagram page and also print a hard copy to hang in the studio.

The business

Zelle – I started accepting Zelle and similar banking payments this year. It has been nice to offer another way for families to make payments, and this system has been very good so far!


I have a category in this blog titled “Happies”, where I post monthly studio happenings that made me smile. This has been a boost to me personally because I am constantly on the lookout for happy moments. These are usually the simple, everyday things that occur – maybe a student says something funny, or we appreciate the longer daylight hours. But to me, these are the moments of my life, and I want to acknowledge and embrace the happiness that comes everyday.

I would love to hear your success stories! Feel free to leave a comment!

Colorado State MTA Conference

This past weekend I attended the annual conference of the Colorado State Music Teachers Association on the campus of the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. I haven’t been able to attend a state conference in seven years, so I really enjoyed this opportunity.

The featured artists were Timothy Fallon, tenor and Ammiel Bushakevitz, piano. They gave a collaborative concert and both taught masterclasses. I really enjoyed the piano masterclass with Mr. Bushakevitz. I was struck with the way he talked about the composers (in this case, Chopin, Debussy and Haydn), their personalities and influences and how you can see that in the music they wrote. The student performers were able to assimilate this information into their pieces immediately (e.g. Chopin’s timidity and moodiness, Debussy’s love of symbolism, Haydn’s jocularity).

One of my favorite workshops from the weekend was given by Dr. Jessica Johnson, professor at University of Wisconsin, Madison titled “All Hands on Keys: Strategies for Teaching Students with Small Hands”. Her video demonstrations of small-handed pianists straining and forcing their hands to reach large intervals was enlightening. She presented excellent resources and tips for negotiating pieces with large hand spans. As a small-handed pianist, I was very interested in these tips and also more than a little jealous of her ergonomically-sized piano keyboard (7/8 size).

The CSMTA board and general meetings were very interesting to see how the organization is run. The luncheon was terrific, as it honored the outgoing board, the incoming board and several members who had earned distinctions. One member from our local association was honored for having been a CSMTA member for fifty years. What an accomplishment!

It was great chatting with old friends and making new friends from around the state. As a private piano teacher, I seldom get to work alongside colleagues in the field, so the opportunity to “talk shop” was wonderful and inspiring.

Happy Teaching Moments | May 2018

These are the moments in May that made me smile.

  1. Two studio recitals – there was a full crowd of supportive families and the students played well

2. My son played the drum to accompany a piano student playing “Havana”

3. Sweet gifts from students

4. Achievement Day – I had the privilege of judging technique, sightreading and ear training

5. Achievement Day student art projects

6. Framing my master’s degree and displaying it in the studio. I realized it’s been fifteen years since I earned it!

7. Student: “Sightreading is always fun.” And he asked to do more sightreading cards! Read my post describing our sightreading challenge here.